BPA Says British Ports Are Hopeful But See Challenges in Year Ahead

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The British Ports Association released the results of a survey of UK ports that shows after a difficult year in 2020, the ports expect another difficult year in 2021. However, there is also appearing an increased level of confidence for the year ahead. The survey, which explored the ports’ views for 2021, was conducted across the membership which consists of 400 ports, harbors, and terminals, that collectively facilitate 86 percent of the UK’s shipping trade.

When asked to summarize their outlook for 2021 in one word or sentence, the word most commonly mentioned by respondents was “challenge,” followed by ”uncertain,” with other responses saying “difficult.” Some said 2021 would bring more challenges than 2020.

“In most senses, the results from this survey were as expected, following the unimaginable and unprecedented challenges posed by 2020. The majority of ports stated that there had been negative impacts on their customer activity, which came at great cost to port businesses. Although not impacting all ports, Brexit changes are another great unknown,” said Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy Manager and Economic Analyst, at the British Ports Association.

The ports universally agreed that 2020 had been a very difficult year for their operations. Asked about the year just completed, 87 percent of the ports said that the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively impacted their customer activity. Over three-quarters of respondents stated that their revenue had fallen since this time last year. Yet, two-thirds of ports said they felt “somewhat confident” about the business outlook for 2021. Only a third responded that they felt “not so confident” for the business outlook in 2021.

“This year will not be without its challenges, with continued disruption to the fishing industry and trade between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland, and the staggered implementation of border controls continuing until June,” acknowledged Warneford-Thomson. “However, 2021 should be a year of real opportunity too; as we hope to see the initial recovery to the economy post-COVID and have the chance to shape several key Government policies, including Freeports.”

Asked about their view of the economic climate for the next 12 months, the ports were largely neutral. A quarter of ports felt positive and a quarter of respondents held a negative view. Among the words they chose to describe their concerns for the year ahead, the ports cited customer activity, the overall status of the economy, operational challenges posed by the pandemic, Brexit, and decreased revenue.

The BPA says it was pleased to see some hope for what 2021 will bring. They noted that some ports responded saying they were positive, or said they had hope, and saw opportunity. One port said “things can only get better…” citing the vast array of challenges the ports and citizens had encountered in 2020. 

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